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One Image that Explains the Problem with Disney California Adventure

The second gate at the Disneyland Resort continues to perform poorly and disappoint guests. With three-day, single park passes costing around $100 per day, it makes sense for most guests to skip Disney California Adventure (DCA) altogether – especially if they are on a budget.

While there are several problems with DCA, the most glaring is the problem of theming, and the problem is easily illustrated with one photo. Taking the photo from Grizzly Peak Airfield toward the Carthay Circle Theater, the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout towers in the background and creates a dissonant sight line that doesn’t make sense in the theme park context.

Walt Disney thought that controlling sightlines was important enough that he built a berm and planted trees on top of it to keep people from seeing what was outside the park. The Walt Disney Company has repeatedly lobbied the Anaheim City Council to keep other hotels from rising above certain heights, so that they can’t see in and they can’t be seen from the park. The Jolly Holiday Café was built with two styles of roofs – one to fit the aesthetic of Main Street, U.S.A. and one to fit the theming of Adventureland.

Disneyland and its progeny have all been about theming when they work. The current regime seems to have forgotten its company history and the innovations that it brought to amusement parks. Theming is Disney’s strongest characteristic. They use it to keep stories cohesive, and they should be using it to keep the stories of their parks understandable.

With Pixar all over DCA and not just on the pier and the Little Mermaid’s huge fin- or footprint (depending on the part of the story you’d like to reference) on the opposite side of the pier, Disney California Adventure has a theme problem. Its name no longer matches its content, and it’s been caught in a no man’s land of California references that don’t fit in the Cars landscape, the impending arrival of Tony Stark’s Marvel land, which will likely incorporate the now poorly placed Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at least in name and zone, or many of its other attractions.

It’s time for the Disney Company to let it go and speed up the retheming of the park, which will necessarily include getting rid of Buena Vista Street and Hollywoodland, which is currently the default play place for Marvel superheroes, Monsters, Inc, and Mickey’s Philharmagic – none of which actually represent the heyday of Hollywood and together they present a dissonance that does the park more harm than good.

Even with a 90-minute wait at Radiator Springs Racers and not using any FASTPASSes, my wife and finished the park between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm. We didn’t ride the Incredicoaster (She doesn’t like loops) or Goofy’s Sky School. We also skipped all of the rides, we could find almost everywhere else – Ferris wheel, giant swings, the Zephyr…

Our 6 pm departure was facilitated by the lack of good, moderately priced food choices in the park. Corn dogs, hot dogs, and hamburgers get old. The Pacific Wharf Café and the nearby Mexican and Chinese restaurants weren’t appealing, and the pasta at the end of the pier just hasn’t ever been that great.

You can still find spectacular shows like “Frozen” and “the World of Color.” When you’re not on a budget and you’ve made reservations, the Carthay Circle and Wine Country Trattoria are still two of the best restaurants in the parks. For those of us that are on a budget, Disney California Adventure isn’t worth the price of admission. I keep hoping, but it looks like it’ll be another two decades before the park finds its footing – if it ever does.

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